MYRTLE BEACH—Deacon Rafael Ghattas’ radiant smile said it all as he stood in St. Andrew Church on the evening of May 22. As he greeted friends and stood with his mother and siblings, the smile never left his face.
It was a sign of the happiness that filled him at the moment earlier in the evening when Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone ordained him to the transitional diaconate, one step closer to the priesthood, which has been Ghattas’ dream for years.
“I never thought it would get to this point and it is an awesome feeling,” Deacon Ghattas said after the ceremony. “I’ve been in seminary for seven years and you get to think that a day like this will never come. I know I now have a big responsibility, but it’s great to know that God can now use me to help people and to bless people.”
His ordination was a special celebration not only because it marked a milestone on his path to the priesthood, but also because it took place as the Diocese of Charleston works to allow people to enjoy public worship again in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
Priests and deacons from the diocese, as well as Ghattas’ friends, fellow seminarians and St. Andrew parishioners attended the ordination, which came with social distancing requirements. Ghattas himself had also recently completed several weeks living and studying with his fellow seminarians in Charleston after he had to leave St. Mary Seminary in Houston because of the virus.
During the liturgy, his supportive family sat in the front row. His mother, Sahar Ghattas, his sister, Gabriella, and her fiancée all were able to attend. His father Boshra was not there because he has been stranded in Egypt due to travel restrictions forced by the pandemic. He is safe and healthy and currently staying in Alexandria, where he watched the ordination via livestream.
Deacon Ghattas is the third member of his family to discern a vocation. His sister, Martha, is a cloistered Incarnate Word nun in Rome, where she has taken on the religious name Mariam al Habiba, according to Mrs. Ghattas. His brother and fellow seminarian, Michael, who also attended the ordination, has decided to take a year off from his studies for further discernment.
“When I saw Rafael getting ordained, I know God is good and God is faithful,” Mrs. Ghattas said. “I feel so blessed to be able to see this.”
During the ceremony, Deacon Ghattas was vested with his stole and chasuble, the vestments of a deacon, by Msgr. James LeBlanc, who currently is pastor of Transfiguration Church in Blythewood. Msgr. LeBlanc was pastor at St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach for several years while Deacon Ghattas was discerning his vocation.
Bishop Guglielmone’s homily focused on the responsibilities of a transitional deacon and the joy of being able to celebrate the ordination as a community after so many weeks when people could not come together.
“As a transitional deacon, you are called to a ministry of compassion, and you should recognize that the Holy Spirit leads us in many ways,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “Rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit and realize that now you are not only the hearer of the Gospel, but its minister.”
The new deacon took a few days off to spend time with his family in Myrtle Beach and then headed for the Midlands on June 1 to begin his summer assignment at the Basilica of St. Peter on Assembly Street. He said he’s excited to serve at the large, diverse downtown parish and begin his new duties.
As a transitional deacon, he can now assist during liturgy, proclaim the Gospel, witness a marriage outside Mass, baptize and give homilies. He is already hearing from people who are seeking his ministry.
“I just got a call to baptize a baby, which will be something new for me, and I have a friend that may get married in three months and they want me to officiate,” he said.
“I also know that at the Basilica I will be assisting at Mass every other day and will be giving a lot of homilies,” he said. “I’m very excited about all these new things and I’ll be learning a lot. God has been very good to me!”